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THE PRICE: Arthur Miller

Posted on: April 19th, 2017 by Roundabout

 

A Childhood during the Great Depression

© The Inge Morath
Foundation/Magnum Photos

Arthur Miller was born in October 1915, on West 110th Street, to parents of Polish Jewish descent. His father Isidore was a prosperous coat manufacturer, and his mother Augusta was an avid reader and educator. Prior to 1929, the family lived comfortably in a large apartment, and young Arthur was driven in a chauffeured car. However, the stock market crash and the Great Depression changed everything. The Millers moved to Brooklyn, living in drastically reduced circumstances, experiences that would influence young Arthur Miller and inform many of his plays.

Miller attended James Madison High School and graduated from Abraham Lincoln High School in 1932. By the time he was 16, Miller knew he had a talent for storytelling and entertaining his friends and wanted to become a writer. Miller worked odd jobs, including carpenter, delivery boy, and clerk for an auto parts warehouse, to save for college. He attended the University of Michigan, where he wrote for the student paper and majored in English. There Miller was mentored by playwright and professor Kenneth Rowe, who taught classic plays and their dramatic structure. In 1936, Miller won the school's Avery Hopwood Award for his first play, No Villain. The $250 prize helped him pay for school and encouraged him to pursue playwriting.

Broadway Bound
After graduating in 1938, Miller returned to New York to write radio plays for the short-lived Federal Theater Project. He married Mary Slattery, his college sweetheart, in 1940. They soon had two children, and Miller worked in the Brooklyn Navy Yard to support his family while continuing writing.

Although Miller’s 1944 Broadway debut, The Man Who Had All the Luck, closed after four performances, he hit in 1947 with All My Sons. This moral tragedy about a manufacturer who sells faulty parts to the military resonated for audiences who had endured the Depression and World War II. It ran almost a year and earned Miller his first Tony Award for Best Author.

Miller built a small studio in Roxbury, Connecticut, where he wrote the first act of Death of Salesman in less than a day (completing the play in the next six weeks). His creation of Willy Loman, an aging salesman confronting his own failure, resulted in an American masterpiece. Under the direction of Elia Kazan, Salesman premiered on Broadway in February 1949 and won the Pulitzer Prize, the Tony Award, and the Drama Critics’ Circle Award.

McCarthyism and The Crucible
With The Crucible in 1953, Miller dramatized the 1692 Salem witch trials as an allegory for McCarthyism. Miller wrote the play as a rebuke against Kazan, who had betrayed mutual friends by naming them as Communists to the House Committee on un-American Activities (HUAC). Although the original production was not as successful as his previous plays, it has since become one of Miller’s most frequently produced plays around the world. When Miller himself was called before the HUAC in 1956, he refused to “name names” and was cited for contempt of Congress. The ruling was overturned two years later.

Marriage to Marilyn
Miller initially met Marilyn Monroe in 1951 through Kazan, who was dating her at the time. Their friendship turned into a romance, and in 1956, Miller divorced his first wife to wed Marilyn, hailed by Norman Mailer as the union of “the Great American Brain” and the “Great American Body.” Throughout their high-profile marriage, Monroe worked steadily while struggling with addiction and personal problems, but Miller wrote very little. An exception was his screenplay for The Misfits, penned for Monroe. The film, starring Monroe, Clark Gable, and Montgomery Clift, was directed by John Huston and released in 1961. Miller and Monroe divorced the same year, and she died of an overdose the following year.\

Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller

Later Career and Resurgence
Although the next few decades did not yield the hits of the postwar years, Miller remained a presence in the theatre. His 1964 play After the Fall was thought by many to have been inspired by his marriage to Monroe; however, Miller denied this, stating, ''The play is a work of fiction. No one is reported in this play.” Miller reunited with longtime collaborator Elia Kazan for its premiere. Other works included Incident at Vichy, The Price, and The American Clock (inspired by his family’s experiences during the Depression). He also scripted the 1980 TV movie Playing for Time, based on the true story of Jewish musicians in an Auschwitz orchestra during the Holocaust.

Outside of the theatre, Miller worked for the rights of international writers as president of PEN International. He spoke against the Vietnam War in 1965, participated locally in Connecticut politics, and served as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 1968. Miller married Austrian-born photographer Inge Morath in 1962, and the couple had two children, Rebecca and Daniel. He collaborated with Morath by writing the texts for three books: In Russia, In the Country, and Chinese Encounters. Miller’s own memoirs include Salesman in Beijing (1984) and his autobiography, Timebends (1987). The marriage lasted until Morath’s death in 2002.

In the 1990s, three new plays, The Ride Down Mount Morgan, The Last Yankee, and Broken Glass, brought renewed attention. Miller’s themes of success and failure continued to resonate and find a new audience for revivals of his earlier work, including a 1996 film of The Crucible, a 2005 Tony-winning production of Death of a Salesman, and, most recently, acclaimed reinterpretations of A View From The Bridge and The Crucible from director Ivo Van Hove.

Death and Legacy
By the time of his death at age 89, Miller’s work was being performed somewhere around the world on any given day of the year. Miller died of heart failure on February 10, 2005, which coincided with the 56th anniversary of Salesman's original Broadway opening, surrounded by family and friends. The BBC obituary praised Miller as “a man of the highest integrity, both in his work and in his personal life, Arthur Miller was an old-fashioned liberal, who never accepted the American dream at face value.” Besides his many plays, his legacy includes The Arthur Miller Foundation for Theater and Film Education, chaired by Rebecca Miller, which promotes access to theater and film education for NYC public school students.

Plays By Arthur Miller
The Man Who Had All the Luck (1944)
All My Sons (1947)
Death of a Salesman (1949)
The Crucible (1953)
A View from the Bridge and A Memory of Two Mondays (1955)
After the Fall (1964)
Incident at Vichy (1964)
The Price (1968)
The Creation of the World and Other Business (1972)
The Archbishop’s Ceiling (1977)
The American Clock (1980)
The Ride Down Mt. Morgan (1991)
The Last Yankee (1993)
Broken Glass (1994)
Mr. Peters’ Connections (1998)
Resurrection Blues (2002)
Finishing the Picture (2004)


Arthur Miller's The Price is now playing at the American Airlines Theatre. Visit our website for tickets and more information.


Related Categories:
2016-2017 Season, Arthur Miller's The Price, Education @ Roundabout, Upstage


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Arthur Miller’s THE PRICE: Interview with Actor Jessica Hecht

Posted on: April 11th, 2017 by Roundabout

 

Jessica Hecht

Ted Sod: Where were you born and educated?  When did you decide to become an actress? Did you have any great teachers who influenced you?
Jessica Hecht: I was born in Princeton, New Jersey, and educated at NYU. I grew up in a town called Bloomfield, Connecticut. I was very affected by all the productions I saw at The Hartford Stage Company when I was a kid. I didn’t really decide to be an actress until I met the great actor Morris Carnovsky in 1984. I went to Connecticut College for about a year-and-a-half before I went to NYU and took a Shakespeare course with Mr. Carnovsky. His understanding of Shakespeare’s language just opened up a door for me. I was depressed at Connecticut College for a multitude of teenage reasons, so I asked him what he thought about conservatories, and he said, “Go to New York and study with Stella Adler.” I said, “My parents will never let me go to New York!” And then he told me about NYU. I auditioned and got in, and I also got to study at Stella Adler, and that was my real entry into this world.

TS: Why did you choose to play the role of Esther Franz in Arthur Miller’s The Price? Does the play have personal resonance for you? How do you understand the relationship between Esther and her husband, Victor?
JH: I read the play last year. I hadn’t read it before. I chose to do the play because, for me, the kind of struggle that Esther’s experiencing as a middle-aged woman — thinking that her life would be different than it is — is so beautifully articulated that I couldn’t say no. At the moment, I can’t think of another great American play that has a character whose feelings line up with the issues I grapple with personally. The ideas of the play are things that I think about a lot: the idea of family and your obligation to it. For me, that’s one of the primary things that makes me feel good about myself, but what is the real value? What is the real thing that you are doing when you order your life so that you’re devoted to your family? I think Arthur’s interest in that idea, in terms of his female characters, is fascinating. My experiences acting in A View from the Bridge and After the Fall were thrilling. It's funny because his women are often in marriages in which the husband isn’t as demonstrative as the wife is with love and affection. But it’s not true in this play. I love Arthur’s stage note in the very beginning of the play where he says, “Their relationship is quite balanced.” You see that throughout the script. Victor and Esther are really into each other and want to make life good for one another. Their marriage is built on a deep connection with a shared commitment that their lives would turn out a certain way. That hasn’t happened, but Esther’s holding on to hope. Partially, I feel that their present dynamic is built on guilt. She says, “I wasn’t a very good wife— I should have pushed you more.” She believes enormously in him. I think he in turn feels guilt that he hasn’t given her the life she wanted. She expresses early on that she can’t have a regular job. She says: “I could never go to the same place every day.” She also intimates that she wanted more kids, but they didn’t have the money. They talk about these things — they’re certainly not repressed. I think it’s a very honest depiction of a marriage where a couple is flawed and stuck but they are able to talk to one another. That’s one of the reasons they stay together.

Photo by Joan Marcus

TS: You were nominated for a Tony Award for your work in A View from the Bridge, and I was curious if working on Beatrice in that play would inform your work on Esther. It seems like they’re quite different women.
JH: I do think they’re different. Without giving too much away, Esther has her own demons. The text articulates the fact that she might struggle with alcoholism and sadness. Beatrice has to be the strongest person in the room. And she does that at the expense of her own needs. There’s no romance in that character. That’s been beaten out of her by experience. There’s a deep love, but there’s no romance. I think there is a decided bit of romance between Esther and Victor in this play. That’s what interests me. Not that it’s at all delicate, but there’s a kind of vitality in what is going on with those two characters in The Price. They don’t want to succumb to whatever “middle-aged” means to them, and that is interesting to me because I haven’t seen that in Miller’s other women as much.

TS: How have you been preparing to do this role? Have you done any research about the period? Did you read Miller’s biography, Timebends?
JH: I read Timebends when we did After the Fall at Roundabout, and I read it again before rehearsing A View from the Bridge — so that’s been very helpful. Arthur denies autobiographical elements in his plays for the most part, but it’s always interesting to see what was going on around him at the time he wrote the plays. I love listening to him talk in interviews. I love listening to the way he describes things. He has this meat-and-potatoes way of looking at really complex situations. I don’t in any way want to profess to know him deeply. I only worked with him once. He was still alive when we worked on After the Fall, and that was such a gift. When I listen to him talk about things, it makes me realize that there’s a centeredness about how you have to approach his plays. You can’t approach them in an intellectual way. Basically, the way I prepare is by reading the play over and over again, and I try to get the psychology and history of the character — it is so beneficial — and to hear the way Arthur organized the voices of his characters. He is very practical.

TS: Do you have a sense of what this play is about?
JH: It’s about the deep distance within families and how we have a really hard time coming to terms with that distance. It’s a very human thing to be lonely within your family, and even more profound is being singularly disconnected in a way that’s painful and difficult to overcome. That is the pain that Miller’s trying to grapple with in The Price, I think. I lost my father almost two years ago. The need to be with your parent as they’re dying is something I recognize. Why does one person feel that profoundly while another person doesn’t? It’s a kind of isolation. Miller wrestles with that in The Price.

Photo by Jenny Anderson

TS: There’s a stranger named Solomon in the play who forces Victor and Esther to think differently about their situation. Do you agree?
JH: Yes. He’s a magnificent creation because Arthur gives him his own personal pain. He is someone who could have escaped Auschwitz. He has a thick Yiddish accent and he comes from that part of the world. He also carries the pain of his daughter who died as a teenager. Even though he has this tremendous humor and is very irreverent, he has this gravitas by virtue of what he experienced in life. And in the end, he owns it with such dignity. It’s fascinating. It’s a very funny part. Danny DeVito will be amazing in it.

TS: How do you think Esther views her brother-in-law, Walter?
JH: I think she’s now fascinated by him and was previously very infatuated. It’s that kind of infatuation you have with someone who is very smart or very talented, but they do something to reveal their narcissism and you are now embarrassed. When Walter walks into the attic, she has this resentment about him not picking up the phone and treating Victor like crap. It pains her. But she’s also a little thrilled and senses that he’s changed.

TS: What do you look for from your collaboration with a director?
JH: I look for a way to access the emotions of the play. I think that’s what’s most vital, and I sense that’s exactly the way Terry Kinney, our director, works. He’s also an excellent actor, and I see that he wants to open these doors for us.

TS: I read in The New York Times that you keep watch from your apartment windows, and I was wondering if that is how you keep yourself inspired as an artist?
JH: I do feel inspired by the fact that everybody seems to experience the same routines and the same pathos. I saw this man across the way from us, and he seemed to be really yelling at his wife. He was screaming at her, and I felt mortified that I was watching them. I looked away, and then I looked back and he was hugging her. He was really embracing her. I thought how beautiful that they had this fight and then they made up. I saw all of it. In a way, that’s better than watching any movie. The dynamics that people go through are so universal. I find it very touching that we’re all in this together. To tell the truth, I think that’s why our neighbors don’t have any window treatments either.

TS: Public school students will read this and will want to know what it takes to be a successful actor. Do you have any advice?
JH: In terms of crafting a career, my only advice is to never say no. You’re too young to have judgment, so the idea is to keep working and keep opening yourself up to people who are as interested in creating art as you are. That is the most important thing. You’re not going to act on your own, and you never actually know who is going to help you fulfill your goals. It’s really important that you open your mind to as many people as possible and become part of a community. The whole point is to create a community. That’s what worked for me. I work with the same people all the time, and I think that’s the only reason I’ve ever grown as an actress.


Arthur Miller's The Price is now playing at the American Airlines Theatre. Visit our website for tickets and more information.


Related Categories:
2016-2017 Season, Arthur Miller's The Price, Education @ Roundabout, Upstage


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Arthur Miller’s THE PRICE: Designer Statements

Posted on: April 3rd, 2017 by Roundabout

 

Set model for Arthur Miller's THE PRICE

DEREK MCLANE — SET DESIGN
The Price takes in the late 1960s and, interestingly, Arthur Miller said that this play was his response to the Vietnam War. The setting is located in an attic apartment in an Upper West Side brownstone that is going to be torn down so that new high rises can be built. It is where the father of Victor and Walter used to live. The house now contains an enormous furniture collection. The furniture collection comes from the early 1900s, and the story of the play centers around the value of this furniture collection, so we have to see it. Victor wants to sell the furniture, and a big chunk of the play is the negotiation for the price of this furniture. What’s interesting about the furniture collection is what the furniture dealer, Solomon, says about it -- that it’s out of date. It’s actually not worth that much. Victor and his wife, Esther, think the furniture is worth a huge amount of money, but in fact it’s outdated because of its scale. It’s too big for most modern apartments. The value of the furniture also speaks to the feeling of an end of era in this play. I wanted to give the audience the sense of the attic being at the very top of the house and how that relates to the surrounding skyline of an older New York City neighborhood. There are no walls to this attic. There’s a roof and a floor and the roof floats over the floor. The audience sees other rooftops from the surrounding buildings as well as the sky. I tried to create an exaggerated sense of height, so the audience will get the feeling of a precipice. I wanted the audience to be aware subliminally that things are about to change. It’s not a literal set at all, but it has all the things that are called for in the text. It has stairs coming up from below, and it has the furniture that’s referred to in the story, but it’s opened up in a way that gives it a larger — and perhaps more poetic — meaning.

SARAH HOLDEN — COSTUME DESIGN

Costume renderings for Arthur Miller's THE PRICE

When I first read The Price, I was struck by the deep and complicated relationships among these four people. Although the play takes place over just a few hours on one day, it is infused with a much larger history—the history between two brothers and between a husband and wife combined with the literal history of a lifetime accumulation of furniture, possessions, and memories. The history that gets in the way of them being able to talk honestly and openly with each other. Even Solomon, the one character who is unknown to the other three, comes in with his own messy and tangled human story. Designing costumes for The Price began with getting to know these four characters. Talking with director Terry Kinney about who they are, how they relate to each other, and what the stakes are for each of them on this day. The next step was diving into the research. Finding their world by reading plenty of magazines from the late ‘60s, searching through catalogues and learning everything I could about the NYPD uniforms circa 1968. For me, the most interesting challenge was making sure these characters onstage simply look like real people wearing real clothes. This involved talking to each actor and beginning that collaboration, which continues through the fitting process and all the way to the costumes onstage. If I did my job well, the audience will forget about the costumes and just see Victor, Esther, Walter, and Solomon, who have met up in an attic apartment on this day bringing with them both their histories and their hopes.

DAVID WEINER — LIGHTING DESIGN
I am completely thrilled to be designing the lighting for Arthur Miller’s The Price. What makes this opportunity so compelling for me is how Miller masterfully renders a landscape of memory within the literal landscape of Victor and Walter’s familial past — their childhood attic, littered with relics that bring painful memories into sharp focus. My challenge is to use the lighting to render a visual world that enhances Miller’s writing with the same sense of dramatic poetry. Derek McLane has designed a stunning deconstructed attic in which the outside world bleeds into the inside. They are both separate and one. We are surrounded by the skyline of late 1960s New York, where the play takes place over a couple of continuous hours one fall evening. By using time of day as a mechanism for delivering light into the space — a giant sculpture comprised of assembled furniture pieces — I hope to illustrate and sharpen the emotional journey that the two brothers make during their reunion after being long estranged. As Miller unravels their relationship in front of us, we will descend through sunset into night penetrating the attic with the light of waning sun and moonlight. Shafts of light will carve up Derek’s attic sculpture, bringing specific relics of Victor and Walter’s past into focus to help illustrate their emotional journey – a harp, their father’s chair, an armoire filled with their mother’s gowns, an old Victrola. The trick will be for the lighting to enhance the storytelling in a subliminal way, so that the audience is never aware that their attention is being directed by the light even though it is.

JESSE TABISH — ORIGINAL MUSIC
I was familiar with other Arthur Miller plays, but, to be honest, I had never heard of The Price. I was immediately engaged and found it deeply human. It's deceiving at first because of the simple, plain talk and domestic setting — but, as the play unfolds, the characters start to unearth themselves as they recall their own versions of the past. A creeping tension builds and builds. There's no big bam ending, which I loved. Real life stuff. The research I did in order to compose music was looking up old interviews of Arthur Miller where he talks about life and his work. I even tried sneaking some of that audio into the music! Not sure if it will make the cut though. Initially I had written several pieces that in retrospect came off as too gloomy/dramatic/ sad. After talking with Terry Kinney, the director, we realized that there was much more love and lightness in the play. So, for me the challenge composing this score became balancing tension and human fragility without coming across too epic or sad. I hope I have achieved this. I'm so honored to be a small part apart of this production with its amazing cast, crew, and director.

ROB MILBURN AND MICHAEL BODEEN — SOUND DESIGN
During discussions with our director, Terry Kinney, he described the aural landscape of The Price as subtle, spare, super real, and dreamlike. The play embraces both the joy and unreliability of memory. There are also two key aural moments in it that are written in the stage directions by Miller and are the first sounds we hear in the play, even before we hear an actor speak. The first one is the plucking of a single harp string by Victor, creating a heavenly, light sound that resonates against all the large old furniture stacked in a dark attic. The second thing we hear is a record on a wind-up Victrola. The needle is dropped onto a slightly scratchy record. The song is an upbeat and happy vaudevillian tune sung in a back and forth manner by two male singers. We immediately have a sense of nostalgia of a happier time. It connects to this attic of memory again in a contrasting way -- light and upbeat versus dark and solemn -- but now there are two voices. The first record is almost immediately replaced by a second, where we hear a trumpet, then a woman laughing, then a man laughing. They laugh hysterically. It's a cacophonous trio. It is a surreal moment, as if in a dream, a memory of past good times but skewed by the strangeness of the voices we hear from the Victrola. Derek McLane's beautiful set includes a skyline of the Upper West Side in the late 1960s that surrounds the attic. The spare sounds of the outside world will reinforce David Weiner's lighting gestures, and the subtle use of composed music by Jesse Tabish will float through the space like a distant memory.


Arthur Miller's The Price is now playing at the American Airlines Theatre. Visit our website for tickets and more information.


Related Categories:
2016-2017 Season, Arthur Miller's The Price, Education @ Roundabout, Upstage


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